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Sydney Water Annual Report 2009
Performance review: Serving customers
 
Sydney Water is helping reduce the impact of the financial crisis on vulnerable customers by increasing funding for customer assistance programs.
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In this section:

download View our sustainability performance indicators for this goal
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Creating a positive customer experience

Each day, Sydney Water supplies water, wastewater and recycled water to over 4.3 million people in Sydney, the Illawarra and the Blue Mountains. Sydney Water supported the delivery of core water services by:

  • responding to around one million customer enquiries
  • assisting customers having difficulty paying their water bills
  • helping the elderly, people with a disability and low income earners with lower cost plumbing services
  • offering water efficiency services for residential customers
  • helping business customers be sustainable water consumers
  • assisting developers in connecting to Sydney Water’s networks
  • working with businesses to protect the water infrastructure and environment
  • informing the community about water issues
  • liaising with communities affected by Sydney Water’s construction programs.

In its dealings with customers, Sydney Water aims to create a positive experience by making it easy to deal with us, reducing unnecessary contact and by responding quickly and effectively.

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Feature:
New telephone system

Improved technology has been a key feature of the staff accommodation strategy. Installing a single Voice Over Internet Protocol voice and data system across most of Sydney Water’s sites has improved network capacity and will achieve significant cost savings.

The Contact Centre was the first business area to use the new system. It means staff can now manage customer calls in a smarter way by:

  • directing calls so customers get to the right person first time
  • recording calls to ensure service delivery is of high quality.

Contact Centre staff member helping a customer

Contact Centre staff member helping a customer

 

Providing quick, reliable and consistent service

Every year, Sydney Water gathers feedback through quantitative research on the service it provides to customers. Results of the 2009 Customer Relationship Study show an overall improvement in Sydney Water’s service performance and opportunities to resolve issues and complaints more quickly.

A separate study of residential customers who have reported a fault such as a leaking pipe, a main break or wastewater overflow achieved strong scores for Contact Centre and frontline staff. Customers rated the service they receive on the phone as 8.8 out of 10 and from maintenance crews as 8.9 out of 10.

During the year, the Contact Centre answered over 860,000 customer calls. Many of these are enquiries about their account or water efficiency programs, but cover a much broader range of issues as well. Of these calls, 95% were resolved at the first point of contact.

Seven per cent, or 12,363, of the contacts were complaints. This was about 18% less than the previous year and equal to 7.05 complaints per 1,000 properties. Billing complaints this year, while higher than historical levels, were 21% lower than in 2007–08.

This was largely due to improved performance by Sydney Water’s meter reading contractor. Sydney Water aims to resolve customer enquiries and complaints efficiently and to the customer’s satisfaction. In 2008–09, 91% of complaints were resolved within 10 days, an improvement on previous years. However, customers rated Sydney Water only 4.4 out of 10 for the way it handles complaints, with the time taken to resolve them being a critical factor.

If a customer is dissatisfied with the action taken to resolve a complaint, they may contact the Energy and Water Ombudsman of NSW (EWON). EWON provides an independent and alternative means to review customer complaints. The complaint numbers include complaints made to EWON.

In early 2009, Sydney Water updated its Customer Service Strategy. This has resulted in a number of initiatives including a review of contacts and complaints handling processes. In addition, a new customer management system is being developed. This will give staff one system for customer contact history, interactions, complaints and the status of an enquiry. By June 2012, Sydney Water aims to improve its rating for complaints handling to 7.0 or more out of 10.

From early 2009–10, field staff will be able to access updated network maps via the wireless portable computers they use for job scheduling. This will help them to more quickly solve customer issues.

Other aspects of the Customer Service Strategy review included looking at contact and payment options in line with changing customer expectations. Sydney Water has provided more convenient ways for customers to do business, including phone and online options, while ensuring the traditional over the counter payment option is still available through post offices.

Over the years, customers have adopted these payment methods and Sydney Water has seen a decline in use of its Customer Service Centres. The Customer Centre at Wollongong was closed in December 2008 and the Customer Centre in the Sydney CBD closed when Sydney Water moved its head office to Parramatta in May 2009.

In April 2009, Sydney Water researched property developer customers to identify ways to improve service delivery. Some of the key process improvements identified, including simpler approaches for small developments, will be put into operation during 2009–10.

A change has been introduced this year to assist customers building homes in growth areas. The connection between the water supply main and the customer’s property is now completed as part of the land development and available for use when the customer is ready to build. To get water, customers go to the Sydney Water website and request a water meter to be fitted.

Odour management

In 2008, Sydney Water developed an Odour Management Strategy for sewage treatment plants. Odour mitigation work at high-risk plants is now being done in response to an increase in complaints in 2008–09. There were 244 complaints during the year, with 198 complaints in 2007–08.

A quarter of the complaints related to the Malabar plant. Sydney Water, in consultation with residents and the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water, was able to reduce odours by:

  • replacing the biofilter media
  • scheduling all truck movements before 10 am over summer
  • increasing monitoring and maintenance.

About seven per cent of customer complaints were from Liverpool Sewage Treatment Plant. Most of these complaints related to the diversion flow from the North Georges River submain during repairs. This stopped once repairs were completed. A further seven per cent of complaints were due to the underground odour control unit at the Bondi plant, which is currently being renewed.

The remaining odour complaints were across the network and related to the wastewater system, transportation of biosolids and other Sydney Water activities.

Caring for the community

Sydney Water is working to help reduce the impact of the financial crisis on vulnerable customers by:

  • increasing funding for customer assistance programs
  • targeting key customer groups with information about assistance
  • giving specialised training to customer services staff who deal with vulnerable customers
  • giving additional sponsorship to support community sector agencies.

Increasing numbers of customers needed help to pay their bills. In 2008–09, there was a 25% increase in the number of requests for instalment or deferred payment arrangements. Most requests were for short-term extensions of time to pay.

The number of Payment Assistance Scheme (PAS) vouchers issued by welfare agencies increased by 15.7% to 17,550. Each voucher is worth $25 and can be used to pay residential bills. Over 4,000 households received assistance, with the total value rising to almost $439,000, from about $380,000 the previous year.

Community groups received about $86,500 to help low income households, including culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) customers, access interest free loans to buy water efficient washing machines.

About 200,000 pensioners currently receive concessions on their water bills.

NSW Treasury funds PAS vouchers, the No Interest Loan Scheme and pensioner concessions. Sydney Water funds the remaining customer assistance programs.

Other customer assistance initiatives during 2008–09 included:

  • giving $25,000 in sponsorship to help distressed clients access financial counsellors
  • working with The Council on the Ageing to inform older people about customer assistance options
  • adding three new community agencies, with access to CALD customers, to administer the PAS vouchers.

Involving the community

Sydney Water met with community members and stakeholders at over 2,000 meetings during 2008–09. At these meetings, Sydney Water answered questions and gave details of upcoming projects. Feedback from the community gave valuable insights into local issues and concerns and is used to improve plans and reduce project impacts.

Sydney Water continued to work with its Corporate Customer Council to build an understanding of what customers need and expect. The council provides advice on the interests and concerns of Sydney Water’s customers. It includes representation from business and consumer groups, low income households, environment groups, local government and the Ethnic Communities Council. Council members provided feedback on a number of projects including the Hoxton Park Recycled Water Scheme Service Standards, Customer Assistance Program, SewerFix and the Desalination Project.

Community Liaison Committees at Bondi, Malabar and North Head sewage treatment plants continue to meet and provide feedback on plant operations and new projects.

Sydney Water seeks feedback on its major capital works projects. Projects surveyed this year included the Upper Blue Mountains and Brooklyn and Dangar Island sewerage schemes, North Head plant improvements and the Wet Weather Overflow Abatement Program. Over 85% of customers surveyed were satisfied with the communications provided throughout these projects.

In December 2008, the NSW Government abolished all water, wastewater and stormwater developer charges. Recycled water developer charges remain. The move was part of a broader package of changes to improve housing affordability.

Sydney Water held a forum in March 2009 to brief developers on the new arrangements. This included the way forward for commercial agreements with developers who were already building growth infrastructure.

Investing in the community

Sydney Water’s Community Investment Program covers community sponsorships, industry conferences, donations and in-kind support. It aims to strengthen relationships with the community and key stakeholders, support key capital works projects and give opportunities for staff involvement.

In 2008–09, Sydney Water gave over $1 million to more than 50 organisations as part of the program.

As a sponsor of Taronga Zoo, Sydney Water holds a month-long promotion on-site each year. This year, Sydney Water ran activities for over 10,000 children to help them become more water wise.

Sydney Water also donated $247,000 to 28 staff nominated charities by meeting workplace safety targets as part of its Giving Through Safety Program.

Funds granted to non-government organisations* 2008–09

Sponsorships

$651,681

Donations

$421,894

In-kind support and servicing

$403,957

Total

$1,477,533

* All sponsorship commitments are tied to commercial in confidence contracts.

The Sydney Water website contains more information on this topic.